March 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

It Merely Looks Like a Toaster: Fantasy Novels for Middle Schoolers │ JLG’s Booktalks to Go

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Just because it looks like your ordinary toast-your-bread-kind-of-machine doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a toaster. It could actually be deadly to use. Menacing appliances are just part of the story in a new fantasy series by Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman. The series excitement continues in book two of Obsidian Mirror and Seven Wonders. Rebecca Hahn joins the elite group of fantasy authors with her debut novel about a princess with a life choice dilemma.

City of DeathCHADDA, Sarwat. The City of Death. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine. 2014. ISBN 9780545385183. JLG Level: FM : Fantasy/Science Fiction Middle (Grades 5–8).

In the sequel to The Savage Fortress (Scholastic, 2012), Ash finds himself conflicted between his need for revenge and his desire to remain human. While his dreams become more violent, reality forces him to see that the incarnation of Kali grows ever stronger. Can he control his warrior side? Will he choose the right ally or will his need to redeem himself cloud his decisions?

Great for using in a study of ancient India, The “Ash Mistry Chronicles” has its own website, complete with mythology, character descriptions, and teaching resources. Readers can read Chadda’s biography and blog on the site as well. Follow him on Twitter. Scholastic has posted a Common Core Teacher’s Guide, with dozens of other resources.

Slanted WorldsFISHER, Catherine. The Slanted Worlds (Obsidian Mirror: Bk. 2).  Dial. 2014. ISBN 9780803739703. JLG Level: FM : Fantasy/Science Fiction Middle (Grades 5–8).

Unable to precisely control the Obsidian Mirror, Jake gets arrested in World War II London while his father is in Venice during the Plague. Venn, Sarah, and Gideon aren’t much help, as they are fighting the forces of Summerland. The past, present, and future remain in jeopardy as long as control for the Mirror is at risk.

Fisher’s fans may want to check out her website for introductions to other series. What exactly does an obsidian mirror look like? The Corning Museum of Glass has an example that dates to 1500-1400 BC. In 2007 a mass grave was discovered on an island in Italy’s Venetian Lagoon. Students can read about their findings at National Geographic. According to, over 100,000 people died in Venice during the Black Death, with an average of 600 deaths each day. Research was required to obtain suitable clothing for Jake and Rebecca. A Pinterest search on 1910 clothing shows many options.

Creature of MoonlightHAHN, Rebecca. A Creature of Moonlight. Houghton Harcourt. 2014. ISBN 9780544109353. JLG Level: FM : Fantasy/Science Fiction Middle (Grades 5–8).

Marni knows enough about her past to know that she comes from two worlds―her mother’s royalty and her father’s magical woods. As she comes of age, life choices crowd her every thought. Yet choosing her rightful place as heir to the throne puts her closer to the uncle and king who killed her mother. Accepting the call of the trees draws her closer to her father―the dragon who is taking over the kingdom. Where is her true home?

Hahn has received three starred reviews for her debut novel. She signed a new book deal on pub day, so look for news about The Shadow Behind the Stars (S. & S., 2015) on her website. You can follow her on Twitter. Get a taste of her beautiful writing in the excerpt on her publisher’s page. Add this title to your ever-popular collection of dragon fantasy with strong female heroines.

Lost in BabylonLERANGIS, Peter. Lost in Babylon (Seven Wonders: Bk. 2). illus. by Torstein Norstrand. HarperCollins. 2014. ISBN 9780062070432. JLG Level: FM : Fantasy/Science Fiction Middle (Grades 5–8).

Marco’s disappearance with the first Loculus leaves Jack and his team in a predicament. They need all seven magical objects to find a cure to save them from certain death at age 14. Clues lead them to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, destroyed by earthquake centuries ago. Their situation gets complicated when they find the next Loculus, but realize taking it is the cause of the natural disaster.

Read about the author on his website. Lerangis includes information about the Seven Wonders, as well as fun extras like videos, quizzes, and interactive maps. Follow him on Twitter. Use the Teacher’s Guide created by the publisher.

Even fantasy novels need accurate information. An Archimedes’ screw is important to the plot. Students can see images in a Google Image Search or watch a video of one in action from on You Tube. Read about the Hanging Gardens of Babylon on The Museum of Unnatural Mystery. In 2013 National Geographic reports that an assyriologist found evidence that the ancient wonder may have been 340 miles north in Nineveh.  There are links within the article to The British Museum on the kings associated with its construction.

Teslas AtticSHUSTERMAN, Neal and Eric Elfman. Tesla’s Attic (The Accelerati Trilogy: Bk. 1).  Disney-Hyperion. 2014. ISBN 9781423148036. JLG Level : FM : Fantasy/Science Fiction Middle (Grades 5–8).

What seems to be an attic of household junk turns out to be powerful inventions in disguise. The former home of Nikola Tesla, inventor and physicist, is the new residence of 14-year-old Nick, his younger brother, and his father. Recovering from the accidental death of his mother should be easier in a new house. Discovering the toaster that could literally kill him does take his mind off his grief. When he and his new friends are threatened by the Accerlerati, a secret society of physicists, they realize that they have more power than they imagined. So many lives are in danger. Can they make the right decisions or is death inevitable?

Prolific author Shusterman’s website hosts a plethora of information. You’ll find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. Don’t miss the live action book trailer. Coauthor Elfman is also a writing coach, providing tips on his website. Project Mayhem, a blog from “the manic minds of middle grade writers,” interviewed the authors about the series. A well-documented Wikipedia article posts more than 200 citations, videos, photographs and external links, including the Nikola Tesla Museum. PBS has lesson plans for teaching about Tesla’s work in electricity.

Additional Resources

In an effort to organize these links, I have created a LiveBinder. All websites will be posted within the LiveBinder, along with the accompanying booktalk. As I write more columns, more books and their resources will be added. Simply go to JLG Booktalks to Go where you will see LiveBinder main tabs. Each tab is a book title. Under each color-coded tab are gray subtabs with links to media, websites, and other related documents. Everything you need to teach or share brand new, hot-off-the-press books is now all in one place. Please visit JLG’s new LiveBinder, JLG Booktalks to Go.

For library resources, tips, and ideas, please visit JLG’s Shelf Life Blog.

Junior Library Guild (JLG) is a collection development service that helps school and public libraries acquire the best new children’s and young adult books. Season after season, year after year, Junior Library Guild book selections go on to win awards, collect starred or favorable reviews, and earn industry honors. Visit us at (NOTE: JLG is owned by Media Source, Inc., SLJ’s parent company.)


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Deborah B. Ford About Deborah B. Ford

Deborah is the Director of Library Outreach for Junior Library Guild. She is an award-winning teacher librarian with almost 30 years of experience as a classroom teacher and librarian in K–12 schools.